For weeks people have told Sue Ryder what they think about them boasting of using workfare and their attempts to claim that mandatory work placements are voluntary. But yesterday, just hours after a rolling online action was launched, Sue Ryder announced a “phased withdrawal” from workfare schemes, showing how public pressure can influence charities.
It is a fantastic testament to people power that the charity say they will be withdrawing from all “mandatory back-to-work schemes”. It means that the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, which relies on charity and public sector placements, is made even weaker: Sue Ryder are the third charity to pull out in the last fortnight, following hot on the heels of PDSA and Sense. Already before that the government had complained that “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.” Your actions are stopping workfare.
For Sue Ryder to end its dealings with workfare, it needs to make sure it doesn’t drop back to using the Work Experience scheme (as it is rumoured British Heart Foundation have done). The “Work Experience scheme” is only non-mandatory unless you turn it down, in which case this can be used as a reason to send you on Mandatory Work Activity. We know many people are wrongly threatened with sanctions if they do not take part: the Work Experience scheme is workfare.
We will of course be keeping an eye on Sue Ryder to ensure that they and their shops remain out of workfare, and if you are sent there or know a store which continues to use workfare please let us know.
The withdrawal is a ‘phased withdrawal’, which Sue Ryder they say that this is so that people forced to work for them aren’t “financially disadvantaged”. This can only mean that they think that if they send people away, they will get sanctioned, which is rather contrary to the tone of their original Q&A which suggested that nobody would get sanctioned for not going on workfare with Sue Ryder. It also contrasts other charities, whose withdrawal has been immediate. Is the real reason for a phased withdrawal that Sue Ryder have come to depend on workfare in place of genuine volunteers?
Sue Ryder’s PR crew certainly haven’t learnt any grace since their Q&A backfired on them, and have accused those who oppose forced work of causing distress to their “service users, their families, our supporters and Sue Ryder staff and volunteers”. Looking on their facebook page shows a number of genuine volunteers saying how happy they are that the charity they donate time to won’t be using forced work anymore. It’s a low shot to simply try to slander those who disagree with you, but Sue Ryder have definitely lost the argument.
What the online campaign shows is the depth of feeling against charities taking part in schemes that force unemployed and disabled people to work under the threat of benefit sanctions that can last for three years for JSA claimants or stop 70% of benefits indefinitely for ESA claimants. People see the distress caused by these schemes which do not help people find a job, and customers, volunteers, donors and claimants want nothing to do with it.
Our online rolling picket will continue to pressure other charities involved in workfare – The Salvation Army, YMCA, RSPCA, Papworth Trust, TCV and Barnardos all still need to pull out – let’s keep the pressure up as we move towards the week of action on 18th-24th March, where companies and public sector organisations using workfare will also be highlighted in actions against their involvement.